Assessing the risk of disease transfer is year-round work, but it is in the spring that many diseases manifest themselves. Chronic feedlot animals succumb to extreme changes in temperature, calves are exposed to cold and wet and suffer scours and other health issues, people are tired and access control is lax. Silent illness like Johnes or visible outbreaks such as scours are all common and rob farmers of performance and lives. Taking the time to evaluate the risk within the herd is a proactive step in prevention.
Many diseases are manure-borne and transferred, making control in spring tough. Access to pens by visitors may introduce contamination and is a common issue in nearly 70 per cent of herds. To mitigate the risk, it helps to have a few extra sets of “on-farm” boots that can be worn. This ensures that problems at one farm are not gifted to another.
Buying cows and dairy calves from auction markets is a high-risk activity. It is like a bonus coupon, you may get more than what you paid for and it may not be what you want. It is best to buy cattle direct and ask the seller about their herd health history and protocol. Like buying a used car, it is acceptable to ask to check with the consulting veterinarian on the herd history before making a decision. Bringing in one diseased animal puts the entire herd at risk because of the nature of manure or air- borne disease. These diseases are almost impossible to prevent from spreading and it is on the individual cow or calf as to their level of immunity or resistance.
Those first hours are important for calves and they need colostrum. Unfortunately, if mother is an infected cow, this may pass to the calf. An even greater risk to the calf is giving it colostrum from another cow or pooled colostrum from a batch. This increases the opportunity for disease as this is a cocktail of sorts. It may seem a trivial point, but a recent risk assessment in Alberta herds found that nearly 50 per cent of calves were given colostrum from someone other than their mother by mistake or design.
Calving in the spring is challenging, with pools of mud and manure that tend to form. Calves are prone to lick or drink from these pools and in crowded conditions may have to bed in them. Scours are as common in calves as colds in a daycare, but that does not mean it needs to be so.
Scours cost money
Prevention through vaccination is only as good as the management practices that go along with the vaccination protocol. Treating scours may be an acceptable part of calving but it is costly in terms of time, medication and performance. Calves that have scoured or become ill have limited performance in the feedlot and an increased grading cost of $250.
In other words, a sick calf, even a calf with only scours, is doomed as a feed converter and as a carcass. To ensure that cattle can live and perform to their full capacity, they need to be well from start to finish.
We all know the rules about calving, but it never hurts to put them on the fridge for those days that we are tired enough to think about a short cut. Keeping calves warm and dry is of utmost importance. As calves are born they should immediately be moved with their mother to a clean, dry space. In the spring, having a clean pasture area with a little protection is sufficient. This allows for feed and manure to be evenly distributed and for calves to stay out of low wet areas.
Planning for calving areas in the fall makes sense and having carry-over forage on the field is even better. This gives calves natural bedding and gets the cow up and looking for tender shoots. Walking and scouting for treats may tease the appetite of a young cow who has had a tough time and put her in a better frame of mind. It will exercise those areas that are stiff and sore from the birthing process. Most importantly, exercise keeps the intestinal track moving thus enabling her milk output to be maximized.
It’s difficult to have a successful business without a business plan as it is risky to calve without a calving plan. Lack of forward planning for assistance, pre- and post-natal care and emergencies is the crux behind injury to man and beast and the cause of fatality in both. The cow needs to be able to see you and to see where she is going and to feel confident in that maneuver. Remember, labour is tough and extraordinarily painful and asking a cow to get up and saunter over to a foreign area when she is cramped with pain is asking for trouble.
In all things, planning, practicality and common sense are needed. Cattlemen don’t need to have a fancy calving barn but they do need to plan for the health, welfare and disease prevention of the cattle on the farm.